The working title of this story was Never Until This Day, but it’s been retitled to Mr. Darcy’s Bluestocking Bride. It will be releasing Summer 2016.
Summary: Elizabeth overhears Wickham plot against her family just before she departs for Kent. Will Elizabeth seek the help of Fitzwilliam Darcy?
This is a work-in-progress I am currently writing. Below is a sample of the first chapter. No other chapters will be posted until the story is completely written and has gone through the editing process, unless I post a later teaser.
April 13, 1812
Elizabeth Bennet took a deep breath as Mr. Darcy pulled the borrowed phaeton to a stop outside the Gardiner residence in Cheapside. He gave her a small smile and offered his hand for her to exit the carriage. It had rained their entire journey, and her wet and muddied gown caught under her foot lurching her forward. Before she could even cry out Darcy’s hands were on her waist, catching her before any harm was done.
He only nodded, and they walked up the stairs in tandem. Both felt too much and were conscious of the seriousness of the reasons for their journey. They were soon shown in the front hall, aware of the puddles they made.
“Lizzy!” Mrs. Gardiner quickly greeted them.
“Mr. Darcy may I present my aunt, Mrs. Edward Gardiner. Aunt, this is Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
“A pleasure, sir. Welcome to our home.”
“I am delighted to meet you.” Darcy spoke with perfect civility and Elizabeth was surprised to find she was not astonished at his politeness at all. She had come to know him well over the last few weeks.
“We expected you hours ago, but I can see you must have been caught in a downpour. Please, come to the drawing room and enjoy the fire. The children are abed, and we can speak freely in there.”
“Forgive me but as you mention it is quite late, and I am quite wet and muddy. I would hate to ruin anything. Would it be possible for me to call on the morrow?”
He caught Elizabeth’s eye and perceiving what he was about she shook her head negatively. He returned to looking at Mrs. Gardiner. “Miss Elizabeth expressed a desire to be introduced to my sister. Would it inconvenience you if she came?”
“Mr. Darcy…” Elizabeth began to interject, but her aunt stepped forward and squeezed her hand, muting Elizabeth.
“You are both very welcome, sir. Mr. Gardiner will be home for dinner. We eat at six o’clock.”
“Does this meet with your approval, Miss Elizabeth?”
“You need not bring Miss Darcy on the morrow, sir.” He gave her a look, and she let out an exasperated sigh. “If you are not able to speak with my uncle until after dinner would your sister feel comfortable with strangers for so many hours? Nor is it sensible to bring her in the morning, return her to your home and then come back for dinner.”
He stepped closer to her and a small smile played about his lips. Her aunt was entirely forgotten.
“Are you giving me leave to arrive at your uncle’s home without the pretence of my sister?”
Elizabeth beamed back at him. “Yes, I am giving you leave to call on me.”
His smile broadened, and Elizabeth could not keep the lightness in her heart escaping through laughter. Fortunately, Darcy recalled himself.
“Thank you for your kind offer, Mrs. Gardiner, but it seems unnecessary. I look forward to dining here tomorrow and meeting your husband. Have a good evening.” He turned again to Elizabeth and bowed over her hand. “Until tomorrow, Miss Elizabeth.”
She watched him leave and then turned to face her aunt who only smiled and shook her head at her. Further down the hallway she saw Jane and ran to her side, embracing her.
“Oh, dearest! How are you? Truly, tell me all!”
Jane replied, “I am tolerable but how are you? My aunt only told me this afternoon Lydia is to come tomorrow and you were expected today, arriving with Mr. Darcy! You have been very sly, Lizzy! Never until this day would I have imagined seeing such an affinity between you two.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I dare say until today I could not imagine it possible myself.”
Elizabeth loved Jane dearly and did wish to make her acquainted with everything that passed in the last fortnight but desired to reflect on things first. She was grateful when her aunt intervened.
“Jane, Lizzy is very wet and must be exhausted. She needs her rest lest she catches a cold. There will be time tomorrow to talk.”
Elizabeth recognized it for the warning that it was. After changing and drying her hair she and Jane obediently went straight to sleep, simply grateful just to have each other’s company again.
The next morning dawned with the sunshine, and Elizabeth was happy to see it. Lydia would be traveling from Longbourn this day and should arrive at noon. Jane began to awaken beside her.
“Lizzy, how did you sleep?”
“Very soundly. At one point Mr. Darcy and I had to get out of the carriage and push when it got stuck in a rut.”
“I am surprised you rode with him and in a phaeton, no less! The storm was no doubt unexpected, but the dust from the road would have been enough to deter me.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Where is your sense of adventure? Mr. Darcy had little choice if I was to arrive yesterday, actually. His cousin is using his own carriage, one of Lady Catherine’s was damaged the other day and not repaired yet. She was disinclined to offer her large barouche box for the journey. Lady Catherine’s daughter suggested the use of her phaeton. Mr. Darcy could drive it instead of needing a coachman and then returning him to Rosings. Additionally, Darcy only keeps one carriage in town so he can use the phaeton until his cousin returns.”
Jane raised her eyebrow. “Darcy, is it?”
Elizabeth blushed and stared at her hands. “If it were anyone but you they would be regaling me with “I told you so’s” but you are far too kind. He is amiable. I like him very much. I was quite wrong about him.”
“Please, tell me all!”
“I will in time but for now I would like a bath and we must get dressed and join our aunt and uncle for breakfast. Lydia arrives in a few hours, and it would be helpful to have some idea on how to handle her.”
“Why has she been sent from Longbourn?”
“Do not imagine anything too evil. She is not being sent away from Longbourn in punishment. We were hoping to separate her from some influences in the Meryton area. More will be explained after dinner.”
Jane furrowed her brow but said no more on the subject.
“Jane, will you tell me how you truly are? I can only imagine how grieved you are by Bingley’s actions. Darcy was quite upset when I told him.”
“You told him!”
“He came upon me after I read your letter.” Elizabeth tried to hide her wistful smile for although the memory held sad ones it also held a happy one as well. “I was very angry and perceived him to be the source of it all.”
“What did Mr. Darcy say?” Jane asked very quietly, and Elizabeth’s heart broke for her sister’s pain. She still hoped to find some good in Bingley.
“Darcy did encourage his friend to stay away from Netherfield. He thought you indifferent. His other concerns were about our family’s behaviour. He learned you were in town as Miss Bingley informed him but she did not mention you had visited, that could have only been a sign in your favour. He never encouraged Bingley toward Miss Darcy.” Her face darkened as she thought of how unjustly Bingley treated her dearest sister.
Elizabeth looked at her sister for a long moment. “Is that all that happened? Did they not come in the shop? I wonder they did not see you.”
“They did,” Jane whispered very quietly.
Tears streaked Jane’s beautiful face as she released her heart. “They came in the store and looked right at me! Mr. Bingley coloured but did not acknowledge me in any way although I had curtsied to them. It was so dreadful!”
Elizabeth had never felt so much rage before in her life. Miss Bingley and her brother gave Jane the cut direct in a shop! Fortunately, it seemed there had been no witnesses but the very thought!
Jane would excuse it, though. “Perhaps…perhaps Mr. Bingley was only confused or embarrassed. I cannot think so badly of him.”
“Perhaps.” She would keep her thoughts to herself on the matter, for now. But Darcy must be told this development. She would never desire Jane to marry Bingley now, but perhaps Bingley’s dependence upon his friend for advice may be of some use.
After a pause, Elizabeth asked the question which was weighing on her for some time. “Do you mind at all that I am attached to Darcy?”
“No! Why should I?”
“I only worried that you would dislike the reminder of Mr. Bingley or the chance of seeing him again.”
“Lizzy, do you have an understanding with Mr. Darcy?”
Elizabeth was silent for a moment. “He has asked for several things, and we have settled on a private courtship for a few weeks before he meets with Father. I worry for the family’s acceptance of him and wish to slowly show my change in feeling first. I have told him I cannot promise to accept his suit but…”
“It is very frustrating! I do like him very much, I am flattered by his admiration, but you can certainly understand I worry for his constancy as well as my own. Not too many days ago I believed we equally despised each other.” Jane shot her a look, and Elizabeth knew that she was likely the only person with sense who believed Darcy disliked her. So blind she had been! “Time will sort it out, it always does.”
The clock chimed, and the sisters decided to ready for the day. Breakfast was slightly unnerving. Everyone had questions, but there was an agreement to wait until Darcy and Mr. Gardiner were present to speak on the matter. Jane knew nothing of Wickham’s plot to hurt the family but Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth found it difficult to conceal their anxiousness until the very moment Lydia walked in the door. She was insensible of any danger she was being saved from. She only knew of the amusement London offered and felt the compliment of being invited over Kitty but Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of her, feeling the relief of having protected her family from Wickham’s treachery.
Lydia chose to rest after her journey until it was time to change for dinner. Darcy arrived shortly after Mr. Gardiner. Elizabeth could see he was nervous about his reception and likely dreading the conversation to follow but was pleased with his civility, especially when Lydia decided she could not keep quiet.
“Lizzy, how can you be so nice to Mr. Darcy when you know how terribly he has treated Mr. Wickham?”
Darcy stiffened beside her, and she hastened to silence her sister. “Lydia, you know nothing of what you speak. Mr. Darcy is a very honourable and generous gentleman.”
Lydia leaned towards Elizabeth and attempted to whisper. “You mean to make Wickham jealous since he turned his affections from you to Miss King. Well, it shan’t happen because Wickham is attached to me!”
She smiled triumphantly, undoubtedly revelling in gaining the attention of the young man who had been her elder sister’s favorite. Elizabeth could not think quickly enough to stop Lydia’s effusions.
“Bingley has abandoned Jane, and you can hardly be serious about liking Mr. Darcy. I daresay I will be the first to marry of us all!”
Elizabeth’s heart constricted. Aside from hearing the confirmation that Wickham already began his conquest, she hated for Darcy to hear such blatant insults and stemming from her own behaviour.
Fortunately, they were then called to dinner, and Darcy was seated near her uncle while Lydia was at the other end. They were too small of a party for much private conversation so Darcy could hear anything Lydia might say but her attention was excitedly focussed on the promise of London amusements. While giddy, Lydia said no more offensive things.
They did not separate after dinner and after a nod from her uncle, Elizabeth began to explain the reason for her hasty departure from Kent and Lydia’s arrival.
“Before journeying to Kent, I overheard Mr. Wickham speaking with a friend of two plans he has. The first plan is to use his….influence over Colonel Forster’s wife to have Lydia invited to stay with them when the regiment decamps for the summer. He would then seduce Lydia and convince her of an elopement with no designs to marry her unless Mr. Darcy ransom the marriage to preserve the Bennet name.”
Jane and Mrs. Gardiner gasped, and Lydia shouted in disbelief.
Mr. Gardiner had the sense to interrupt. “Mr. Darcy’s express alluded to some concern for the family, but I do not understand if this happened before you left Longbourn why it is only now being dealt with?”
“I shared what I heard with my father and he waved my concerns off, certain that it was just idle boasting. I had hoped so as well but three days ago I received a letter from Mary detailing Lydia’s increased intimacy with Mrs. Forster and the seemingly transfer of Wickham’s attentions from Miss King to Lydia.”
All eyes darted to Lydia, and she held her head high. “He loves me. He does not need to convince me of a thing. He said Papa would not approve of our marriage when he has so little money because of Mr. Darcy and if I marry before my sisters.”
Darcy spoke up then. “Miss Elizabeth tells me that Wickham spread lies about my denying him a living. I can show you the documents he signed resigning the living and receiving three thousand pounds. He was to study the law but chose gambling and dissipation instead.”
Jane unexpectedly jumped from her seat. “But he has entered the militia now and is trying to do right. He must feel sorry for what he has done and anxious to re-establish his character!”
Darcy glanced at Elizabeth, and she shook her head. Jane was desperately trying to make Wickham a good man and likely in some way redeem Bingley’s faults as well. She found she could not condemn her sister, it was only a bit more than the feeling she had often felt towards the man. She excused what she saw to be inconstant and improper and never once did she question his story against Darcy. She looked to Lydia, she seemed bored of the whole affair.
“You must excuse my niece, Mr. Darcy. They are all such gentle souls that they find it difficult to think such evil exists,” Mr. Gardiner explained.
“It does you credit to be so forgiving Miss Bennet, but I fear I cannot make such excuses. He returned when the living meant for him fell vacant and when I would not give it to him he abused me abominably. Worse than this, last summer he attempted to elope with my fifteen year old sister, left in my care these last five years. She is to inherit thirty thousand pounds.” Lydia gasped, but he continued. “More than this, I believe he desired revenge as well. It would have been quite complete.”
Elizabeth swallowed hard but felt the need to explain all she had heard. “Which explains Wickham’s motivations for the second part of his plan. He believed it possible for Mr. Darcy to marry me.” She paused and focused on some trinket in the room. “He…he told his friend that I hold him in such high regard I would take him as a lover and either fund him or use my influence over Mr. Darcy to gain him the living after all.”
“No!” Lydia cried. “No! He loves me! Not you! He would never care for you!”
Jane tried to hush her, and Elizabeth met the astonished faces of her aunt and uncle. “You can see why I was not inclined to worry about it. He sounded like a madman but after Mary’s letter and learning more of Mr. Darcy’s character I asked him about the matter and learned of Wickham’s hatred and desire for revenge.”
Lydia was sobbing which was not the reaction Elizabeth had expected.
“No, no you must be wrong. We were to be married. We must be married!”
She could not have said any words more likely to horrify Elizabeth. She stood in alarm.
“Lyddie, what have you done?” she cried.
“He said we were to be married,” Lydia sobbed over and over again.
Elizabeth sank into her seat and was senseless of her surroundings. In time, she would recognize that Mrs. Gardiner and Jane must have seen Lydia upstairs, and Mr. Gardiner must have taken Darcy to his study to discuss matters. She did not doubt Darcy would continue to help settle matters with Wickham. Indeed, his cousin was already attempting to transfer Wickham to another regiment. As much as she now believed Darcy to be the most generous of his sex, she had no hope he would desire her now with the proof of such a family weakness and when under the best circumstances he would be brother-in-law to Wickham! It was exactly calculated to make her feel all she had determinedly resisted the last fortnight. She truly loved Mr. Darcy and from this day forward she would only have her memories.
March 31, 1812
Elizabeth walked along a path at Rosings. She thought Darcy mentioned he enjoyed this particular area. She could hardly account for her reasons. She knew Wickham was not to be trusted and resolved to consider Darcy’s character as she knew it before ever meeting Wickham. She could not say she liked him at all, but she did not hate him.
Aside from desiring to settle the matter of sketching his character, she realized it was wise to strike a friendship with him. She was inclined to think Wickham a madman or stupid but felt it prudent to confirm this in some way, and Wickham claimed to know Darcy well; it should go both ways. Darcy had called on the Parsonage yesterday and, while clearly surprised to see her alone, was entirely civil.
A movement down the lane caught her eye, but still she was surprised to hear, “Miss Bennet! What a fine morning for a walk. Do you often favor this grove?”
“Good morning, Mr. Darcy. I do indeed enjoy this path the most.”
Now that she was not blinded by prejudice she found it difficult to read Mr. Darcy’s face. She thought she saw a glimmer of happiness, but it was likely just at being away from Rosings. In another instant, he wore the haughty expression she recalled so well from Hertfordshire.
Well, he is not so bad as Wickham would say, but that does not excuse his behavior to the rest of Hertfordshire, nor does it change the fact that he dislikes me. But since there is no proof that he is dishonorable as Wickham claimed I have every hope that he shall help.
They had lapsed into silence, though Mr. Darcy seemed on the verge of speaking many times. Deciding that her family was worth this discomfort, Elizabeth decided to push forward with her request.
“I am glad to have a moment of privacy with you, Mr. Darcy.”
Darcy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and then lowered with a mixture of pleasure and satisfaction settling upon his face. ”Is that so Miss Bennet?”
“Yes, I would speak with you on a matter of some delicacy.”
Darcy’s breath quickened which confused her given their sedentary pace, but he remained silent, so she pressed on, “Actually, I owe you an apology, sir. At the Netherfield Ball, I all but accused you of harming Mr. Wickham.” She blushed and looked down before adding, “I am sorry to say I believed many tales he spun about you and has been telling the neighborhood for many weeks now.”
She took another pause and a cleansing, steadying breath, “But I have recently learned he is not a gentleman and not to be trusted.”
She glanced up to see a look of extreme displeasure upon Darcy’s face. At long last he managed to inquire, “Has he harmed you in some way, Miss Bennet?”
“No!” A heavy silence remained between them, and she felt Darcy’s unspoken interrogation. “I take it by your response, though you believe him capable of doing harm? Such as blackmail and extortion?”
“Along with gambling, cheating, and lying, those are among his favorite activities. Have you heard him plan to blackmail someone?”
Elizabeth hardly knew how to reply but was certain Darcy would know if she completely disassembled. “I only overheard him planning to extort money from someone he knew well.”
He furrowed his brow. “You are certain that is all you heard?”
She chose not to answer. “Is he truly capable of following through in his schemes? He seems to lack a sense of industry and if he has invented this false tale of your dealings then might his imagination run a bit too fanciful?”
“Oh, I assure you he is perfectly capable of plotting.” He explained to her his longstanding issues with Wickham.
“Last summer, in the desperation of his circumstances, he intruded on my notice again in the most painful way. His motive was financial, but I do not doubt he intended some kind of revenge on me as well.”
At the time, Elizabeth could scarcely guess what Wickham had done and was troubled to have Wickham’s faculties defended. She fell silent and was surprised when Darcy finally spoke again.
“I am pleased you broached this topic, Miss Bennet. Often times in the last several months I had considered returning to the neighbourhood as I know what Wickham is.”
Darcy was pacing by this time, “I need to speak with my cousin, the Colonel. Do I have your leave to explain what you heard? You may be assured of his secrecy.”
“Yes, of course. I have warned my father of this, but he resolved it must be the fanciful boasting of a dissolute soldier. I am sorry to have to involve you, and now your cousin, especially in light of Wickham’s history of abuse towards your family.”
“I am honored to be of service. Now, I must quickly depart to speak with my cousin. Is it possible to meet with you again tomorrow, to acquaint you with any plans or news?”
“Yes, sir, I thank you. I am usually walking by eight.”
They walked back to the Parsonage gate in silence. Darcy bowed over Elizabeth’s hand and said, “Until tomorrow, Miss Bennet.”
“Thank you again, Mr. Darcy. Until tomorrow.” Then with one long parting glance, he was gone.